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How to determine your skin tone and undertone

Everything you ever needed to know to discover your skin tone and undertone and why that information matters when it comes to choosing make-up.

We’ve all seen it: The woman who has a line of foundation on her chin or neck that no amount of blending can fix, all because she chose the wrong shade of foundation. This easy guide will help you understand the difference between skin tone and undertone so you’ll know exactly how to avoid that situation.

What is my skin tone?

Skin tone is basically how light or dark your skin is—and the world is full of skin tone variety that’s influenced by sun exposure and family heritage. For example, someone with Ethiopian lineage might have a very deep skin colour, whereas someone with Scandinavian heritage might have very fair skin. And that person with Scandinavian heritage might have a darker skin tone if they were living in Peru rather than Iceland. Your genetics govern how light or dark your skin tone can get, but you’ll usually see a bit of a range in the summer months versus winter. (Which means you can’t get away with the same shade of foundation all year round!)

But what is my skin undertone?

It’s easy to take a quick glance at someone’s face and see if she has a light, dark or medium skin tone. But you could have three incredibly pale women stand in a row and each one’s skin might seem completely different. While one woman might tan easily and look good in shades of red, orange or yellow, another might burn in the sun and look best in cool tones such as grey and blue. The subtle “undertones” in everyone’s skin affect the colours that flatter them, whether or not they burn easily and which foundation they should choose. They’re not as obvious as skin tones, but they’re just as important.

How do I know what my skin undertone is?

Easy peasy. Simply choose the category that suits you best from the three options below. A common misconception is that women with pale skin have a cool skin tone and that women with darker skin have a warm skin tone. That’s not the case! Your undertones are not dependent on how light or tan your skin is.

Moreover, if you have an olive skin tone, meaning there’s a greenish cast to your complexion, finding your undertones may seem a little tricky. You’re most likely neutral, though some people with olive skin colour have warm undertones. Following the guide below should help with deciphering your correct category.

You have warm undertones if…

… you tend to tan, not burn; the veins on your wrist look green; you look best in gold jewellery; your skin looks like it has a gold, peach or yellow undertone.

You have cool undertones if…

… you tend to burn, not tan; the veins in your wrist look blue; you look best in silver jewellery; your skin looks like it has a pink, red or blue undertone.

You have neutral undertones if…

… you sometimes burn and sometimes tan; the veins in your wrist look blue and green or it’s hard to decipher; you look good in both silver and gold jewellery; you seem to have a mix of pink and yellow undertones in your skin.

Why does skin tone or undertone matter when I’m picking foundation?

You know you’ve picked the right shade of foundation if it melts into your skin and you can barely tell that it’s there. But that bit of make-up magic can only happen if you understand your skin tone and undertone well enough to test foundation shades that have a shot at matching. It would be pointless to test a foundation for cool undertones if you have warm undertone skin because they’ll never be the right fit. It would be like trying ivory foundation on ebony skin!

How to find your skin tone for foundation

Your best bet is a brand of foundation that has a wide shade range, because the more options on their skin tone chart, the better chance you’ll have of finding your perfect match—especially if your skin tone colour is exceptionally fair or dark. L’Oréal Paris True Match Super Blendable Makeup comes in over 40 skin shades with various undertones, and each one is carefully numbered (the lower the number, the lighter the tone) and lettered (W for warm undertones, C for cool and N for neutral) to make shopping a breeze. The oil-free liquid foundation offers medium to full coverage with a natural finish and won’t cake or clog pores.

The world is filled with a rainbow of skin colour types—each distinct and beautiful. Arming yourself with knowledge about your very own skin tone and undertone is the first step in assembling a make-up bag that is customised to the skin that’s unique to you.

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